Writing, truth and the film Arrival

What is the aim of writing? Of storytelling? What does the reality I create mean? What is its purpose? Fiction, in many forms, can be used to discover truth. This may sound like a contradictory statement; how can writing about things, people and occurrences which are not real, lead to truth?

In December we watched an excellent film, Arrival. I am a bit picky when it comes to sci-fi but, not only did it look absolutely stunning, it was concerned with language; teaching it, interpreting it and learning something new. This was hugely appealing to me. Plus, the film was slow in pace and precise but articulated a sense of scale and suspense masterfully. Watching the main characters Louise (played by Amy Adams) and Ian (Jeremy Renner) try to establish a basic connection through words, images, symbols and actions made me think about writing.

Writing is not just a means of expression, it’s not just something I hope to do for a living, it is the way I know and understand myself. Funny, this is reflected in what I heard about Shakespeare at the RSC which I wrote about last month. When I write something down, take it out of my head and onto a page, it exists in an entirely different way.

Take the below five sentences about myself. I forced myself to think of truths about myself, things I know to be facts about me, my life and personality and write them down to see how I felt about them afterwards.

  • I don’t like it when people make fun of me. I’ve never liked it.
  • However successful I am or may become, it will never be enough to please my mother.
  • I’m afraid of wasps, bees and generally of things which fly about but especially buzz.
  • I think often about the future and about dying.
  • I regularly worry those whom I’m privileged to say love me, may one day discover I’m not who they think I am.

Reading them back, it became obvious that these statements may be full or partial truth or not truth at all. But this is how I see things, how I perceive my reality whether that reality is actually the truth or not. Here lies the basis of storytelling. What if I could create a reality, create a story which was also somehow true? Is this the key to successful storytelling?

Truth to me is the thing which draws me into a book, into a character, into a film, however out there the reality of it might be, like in Arrival for example, or The Handmaid’s Tale. But this film moved me deeply because I could identify with it on several levels; there were some fundamental emotions, sentiments and scenarios that I believed to be expressing the truth, so I could easily get on board with it.

Writing can be exhausting as you give so much of yourself away to it. But now, more than ever, I understand it’s not simply just part of the artistic process as maybe I believed before, it’s the way I create truth. This understanding, however basic, has illuminated writing to me in a fresh way. I often question why writing is important and why I should keep struggling when I’m getting nowhere and here’s yet another meaningful answer; truth.

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